Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Dandy adventure strips


The world's longest running comic The Dandy is 70 years old any day now. Issue No.1 was cover dated 4th December 1937, which means it would have been in the shops a few days before that.

A proper history and tribute to the comic would take more time and reference than I have, so as a nod of respect to the first comic I ever had (and which helped me learn to read) I just want to focus on a period in the mid 1960s. In particular the adventure strips that appeared in The Dandy at that time.

Adventure strips have been absent from the pages of The Dandy for quite a long time now, with the exception of Robin Hood reprints and the rather lighthearted Comet series, both last seen a few years ago. Apparently today's readers prefer total slapstick fun, but 40-odd years ago myself and many others eagerly looked forward to every Monday's installment of the latest serial, just as much as we enjoyed Desperate Dan or Corporal Clott.

There are four serials in particular that I'm going to spotlight here. There were far more than that over The Dandy's long history, but these four were the ones that I encountered as a child and are the ones I'm most familiar with.

The Crimson Ball: Dandy Nos. 1144 (29.10.1963) to 1174 (23.5.1964) Artwork by Jack Glass.
Having started reading The Dandy from January 1964 I came into this strip almost halfway through its run. Yet the impact of the bizarre premise hooked me immediately. The story concerned a mysterious large red sphere, apparently indestructible, which bounded into airfields to smash up our military aircraft. As the story progressed we learned that the ball was controlled by an swarthy masked enemy agent sitting inside the object (known only as "the master of the Crimson Ball" and his country of origin never revealed). Schoolboy Peter Jones took it upon himself to try and trap or sabotage the Ball, aided by the authorities.


The Red Wrecker: Dandy Nos.1190 (12.9.1964) to 1205(26.12.1964) Artwork by Charlie Grigg.
Helping his Dad in the garden, schoolboy Bobby Wilson opens a packet of seeds "with foreign words on it" and the wind blows them onto the garden. Huge red cacti immediately shoot, causing chaos and destruction. The situation worsens when it develops that a mysterious stranger is sowing the same sort of seeds all across town. Bobby, who accidentally discovers the formula for the only weed killer that can destroy the plants, becomes involved in the mission to stop the Red Wrecker and the "master criminal" behind it.

This particularly dynamic two page spread appeared in The Red Wrecker story from The Dandy Book published in 1964:


The Stinging Swarm: Dandy Nos.1224 (8.5.1965) to 1254 (4.12.1965) artwork by Jack Glass.
A gang of crooks with bee-keepers veils affixed to their hats use a swarm of bees with paralysing stings to help them commit robberies. The bees would appear in the unlikeliest of places; swarming out of pillar boxes or into cinemas, to temporarily paralyse their victims. Jack Glass' art, always fairly stiff but strangely appealing, was perfect to show people frozen in mid-run. Again, a schoolboy becomes the only person able to stop the menace because he's the one person the swarm avoid. Why? The final chapter revealed all; the bees didn't like his home-made hair oil!

The Umbrella Men: Dandy Nos.1255 (11.12.1965) to 1290 (13.8.1966) Artwork by Charlie Grigg.
A gang of crooks set out to rob and plunder, but these aren't ordinary bandits. Dressed like city gents in pinstripes and bowlers, the crooks zoom into action using their jet-propelled umbrellas! In this serial, Toby Judd is the schoolboy who sets out to thwart the villains, and he's aided by Gypsy boy Armand Lengro who has a radio that can tune into the bandit's frequency.


What all of these strips had in common was that the hero was always a schoolboy. Not surprising, as The Dandy's readership were mainly boys of that age. However, looking beyond that we see that although all four strips were totally different, they each share a similar tone; that of everyday objects becoming something menacing. A ball, a plant, bees, and umbrellas; all familiar to The Dandy's young readership but given a sinister twist to make them objects of mass panic. DC Thomson scriptwriters were always very good at creating a scenario the kids could relate to, even in fantastic situations such as these.

Curiously, The Beano in this same period had a completely different approach to its adventure strips. General Jumbo, The Iron Fish, The Q-Bikes, and Billy the Cat for example were all about children using technology or abilities to help people. The threats in those four Beano strips were comparatively minor; small time crooks, bullies, escaped zoo animals etc. Over in The Dandy, the heroes were ordinary children with no special abilities or gadgets, facing threats to the entire city from technology and science gone wild. While The Beano was showing how technology could be beneficial, The Dandy was showing it to be a threat. (Admittedly at the start of the sixties The Beano ran the serial The Great Flood of London, - recently reprinted in Classics from the Comics, - but for the most part The Beano of the sixties was fairly tame in its adventure strip subject matter.)

I must admit it was always The Dandy's adventure strips that appealed to me more than The Beano's gimmicky heroes. The increased threat-level and bizarre situations of The Red Wrecker and The Stinging Swarm, with always one boy fighting overwhelming threats to the city, seemed to me to be more heroic than Jumbo Johnson using his army of remote controlled toy soldiers to subdue a bully. Sadly, neither Dandy or Beano publish adventure strips now, (with the exception of the odd annual strip) but they'll always remain exciting memories for those of us who were there at the time.


With thanks to The Dandy Monster Index by Ray Moore for the information on issue numbers.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Black Dossier, grey market


Shhhh. Anarchists Moore and O'Neill produce new book The Black Dossier. Book tells secret history of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. How characters from "fiction" engaged in covert activities unknown to us. Dossier contain many surprises: suppressed Fifties comic The Trump; unfinished Shakespeare play Faeries Fortunes Founded; The New Adventures of Fanny Hill; Billy Bunter? Jimmy Bond? Jane? Yes maybe cannot say. Sex very literate. Story nice and meaty like pie cooling on windowsill. 3-D climax, free specs enclosed. Etcetera, etcetara. Much more than just a comic book. Book not allowed in UK but book so good you have to buy. Get Uncle Sam to send you one or buy from cyberwebs or man in mac in alleyway. Top secret. State Secret. Thinking about this book is a THOUGHTCRIME. Looking at these secret photos is an EYECRIME. Look with eyes shut or Big Brother will confiscate your retinas. This information is INFOCRIME. Turn yourselves in.







Normal service resumes next blog.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Flashback 1969: TV21 & Joe 90 No.1


One of the few items I bought at the Memorabilia Show yesterday was issue No.1 of TV21 & Joe 90, a comic I originally had in 1969 but sold years ago considering it not very good. True, by this time TV21 was past its best (and would deteriorate even more before its closure in 1971) but the comic still contained some worthwhile material.

By 1969, City Magazines' would-be mini-empire of tv comics had crumbled. The perfunctory but far from awesome TV Tornado and Solo had long gone, and Joe 90 Top Secret was merged into TV21 after just 34 issues. Apparently Joe 90 was selling better than TV21 but lost out to the older title, presumably because the publisher felt that "TV21" had more longevity as the name of a comic. This would explain why the content and tone of the merged comic was more like Joe 90 than TV21. Gone was the faux-futuristic cover date of 2069 and the pro-Gerry Anderson theme. The revamped TV21 & Joe 90 was now a traditional tv adventure comic.

Publication of the first issue had been delayed for two weeks (due to a strike perhaps?) and the original cover date of 13th September 1969 was blacked out, and printed below was the new date of 27th September 1969. Football now dominated the cover (thankfully replaced by artwork reflecting the strips with issue 4) in a misjudged attempt to appeal to a wider readership. (Those readers would soon defect to IPC's new Shoot! footie magazine.) There was also a price rise, from 7d to 8d, and the first strip inside was a two page football story Forward from the Back Streets; a rags to riches tale more suitable to The Hornet. Could things get any worse for fans of the "old" TV Century 21?


However the rest of the comic still held some interest for regular readers. The merger had brought Land of the Giants and Star Trek to TV21, both illustrated in full colour by Gerry Haylock and Harry Lindfield respectively. In many cases the scripts for LotG were better than those of the Irwin Allen tv series, but the Star Trek strip never seemed to quite attain the wit or sophistication of the tv show.

Don Lawrence, one of the most skilled comic artists in British comics, illustrated The Adventures of Tarzan on pages six and seven. A simple complete story in which Tarzan rightfully beats up a big game hunter and rescues a lion from "a lonely heart-broken life behind bars".

Another complete story, Meet The Saint, followed, with Vicente Alcazar providing the artwork for an uninspiring Simon Templar story.

The Joe 90 strip itself only took up a page and a half in black and white, drawn by Michael Strand. (Suggesting that Star Trek and Land of the Giants had been more popular than Joe 90 Top Secret's lead strip.)

TV21's major asset, Thunderbirds was still on board for the merger, although now relegated to just one page. However, it was still drawn by Frank Bellamy, albeit with a much more pedestrian layout that readers had come to expect of him. Clearly things were afoot, - a budget cut presumably, - and Bellamy left a few issues later, the strip turned to black and white, and John Cooper stepped in as replacement.


By coincidence the facing page to the Thunderbirds strip featured an ad for Letraset Action Transfers, - also illustrated by Bellamy! As we know, comics needed Bellamy more than he needed comics as he could always find work outside of the genre on ads such as these, or artwork for the Radio Times, etc.


Issue one of TV21 & Joe90 ended with the humour strip The Kid King, written and drawn by ex-animator Roy Davis. His style was very simplistic but suitable for adding a lighter balance to the comic. (Roy Davis would later produce numerous scripts for IPC and Fleetway. Although his "scripts" were always done as pencil roughs. He provided many of the scripts for The Vampire Brats, a strip I drew for Buster in the 1990s.)

On the back page of issue one was an ad for Sugar Smacks, included here purely for nostalgic reasons. Sugar Smacks (Kellogg's version of Sugar Puffs) featured promotions like this throughout the sixties, with the box design changing to reflect whatever children's tv show was popular at the time. (Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, and Joe 90 had each featured previously.)


All in all, though a far cry from its 1965-69 heyday, TV21 & Joe 90 was still a reasonably good comic, and much more mature than some of the dumbed-down tv titles of today. However, the comic was doomed. Soon to lose its license to produce Gerry Anderson strips, the comic fell from tabloid to standard format in 1970, added a bunch of non-tv related strips, and merged into Valiant in 1971. But by that time, a new tv adventure comic had arrived, Countdown, which was out to gain TV21's lost readers. More on that here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Memorabilia Show


There's another Memorabilia Show at the NEC this weekend and I attended today's event. These shows have been running successfully since 1994 and never fail to draw huge crowds. Originally just a "table top" event of dealers selling collectible wares, the shows have expanded over the years to include star guests from film and tv, available to sign autographs (for a price) and chat with the fans. In recent times a stage area has also been added, so that guests can be interviewed and take part in a question and answer session. (An excellent alternative to standing in line to meet the actors.)

Comic creators also often guest at the shows, although there weren't so many in attendance this time. There also seemed to be less people selling comics, although comics have never dominated the events. The very first Memorabilia Show had a variety of collectibles, including beermats, old newspapers, and tin toys, but now its settled into more of a cult memorabilia event. Movie-related merchandise seems to be in the majority, and there's also a recent inclusion of sporting memorabilia on display (and guests from the world of sport).

If you've never attended a Memorabilia Show it's worth going along, even for a browse. Taking place in one of the huge halls at the NEC, the event runs 24th-25th November. Admission price £11 per adult. Next event: 29th/30th March 2008.

Here's a few photos from today's show. As always, click on the pics to see them full size:


Above: Comic artists Andrew Wildman and Mike Collins hard at work all day selling sketches for the very worthy Draw the World Together charity.


A classic Dalek wanders around the hall. Always good to see Daleks having a break from conquering the universe to shop early for Christmas, but they're so commonplace at these events now that people pass by nonchalantly.


Actor John Schneider (Smallville, Dukes of Hazard) interviewed on stage.
John's website: http://www.johnschneider.tv


Actor Greg Grunberg (Alias, Heroes) prepares to sign autographs for fans.


Mike McLean, proprietor of Aberdeen's Asylum Books and Games with his stall display of superhero statues and busts. Mike also sells comics online, so visit his website for details.


British filmmaker Neil Marshall, director of Dog Soldiers and The Descent is interviewed about his upcoming movie Doomsday.



For a price, attendees could be turned into zombies or "disfigured" with scars thanks to the skills of a professional make up artist on the Gorezone magazine stand. Must be a bit embarrassing on the train journey home.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Nemi collection hits the UK


Visiting my local Waterstones yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to see Titan Books have recently launched the first UK volume of Nemi strips by Norwegian cartoonist Lise Myhre. A surprise because Amazon and Titan's own website states the publication date to still be several months away (March 2008). Hopefully this quiet release won't affect sales too much, as Nemi has the potential to be as huge a hit as it is in Norway.

Goth chick Nemi Montoya first appeared in the Norwegian comic Larsons Gale Verden in 1999, a 44 page monthly reprinting Gary Larson's Far Side strip along with other American strips such as Dilbert and originated Norwegian material. (Such collections of newspaper strips are very popular in Norway and Sweden.) At the time Norwegian comics were undergoing something of a renaissance and Nemi (pronounced "Nemmi" by the way, rhymes with semi, not "Neemi" as some think) was a strip that appealed perfectly to the cool young adult readership and to the growing Goth culture. Not that Lise had manufactured it that way, but because the character was created from the heart. Nemi Montoya was a character who refused to reject the childlike wonder of life but who also had an astute view of the world, resulting in a strip with streetwise wisdom and real laugh out loud moments.


Nemi
's success was amazing to behold, but not unexpected. The strip appeared daily in one of Norway's top newspapers Dagbladet, (and is now in 60 newspapers worldwide). The popularity of the strip soon saw 32 page softback collections of Nemi strips, then a monthly Nemi comic followed (mainly featuring Nemi strips plus other material chosen by Lise, including reprints of EC comics, Liberty Meadows, Lenore, and others). Lise herself, a thoughtful, articulate and genuinely funny person, appeared in numerous tv and media interviews, crowds of comic fans would thunder towards her panel interviews at the annual Raptus conventions, and she was voted "third sexiest woman in Norway" in Mann magazine in 2002. A true comics superstar with the celebrity status only enjoyed by a few.


From when I first saw Nemi on a trip to Norway in 1999 I thought it would be perfect for a UK audience and although I can't speak Norwegian I made a point of picking up the Nemi comic on every subsequent trip. Lise made a few black and print outs of some translated strips for her English speaking friends, but regular Nemi was what we needed. A few years ago the free UK newspaper Metro began to run translated Nemi strips on a daily basis, and they can be read online here: http://www.metro.co.uk/nemi


Titan's Nemi collection takes the exact same format as the Norwegian hardback Nemi books and as such is perhaps the most impressive book that Titan have released so far. With 144 pages in full colour, the contents are a mixture of gag strips, the 15 page Free and Fearless story from 2001, various Nemi covers (proving Lise's impressive design talents), and a short interview with Lise. Priced at just £9.99 this is great value.

Interestingly, the book's cover (a piece drawn in 2002 for one of the early softbacks, seen below, left) is censored for Titan's version (below, right), - Nemi's cigarette has been deleted. (Although she is shown smoking in the interior strips.)

Hopefully, Nemi will be available to buy online soon, once the "March 2008" date is rectified. Until then, if your local bookshops don't have it in stock, give them the order details ISBN-10: 1845765869 or according to Metro, "Metro readers can buy the Nemi book at a special price of £8.99 including P&P (RRP £9.99) by calling 0870 423 0682".


Above: Lise Myhre in 2003 at the Raptus comics festival in Bergen, Norway.

Interviews with Lise Myhre:

http://www.metro.co.uk/

http://www.norway.org.uk/culture/misc/nemi.htm

http://nemi.thtn.com/creator.shtml

UPDATE: As if by magic, hours after this blog appeared Titan have updated their info and the book is now available to buy directly from them online:

http://www.titanbooks.com/products/uk/9903-nemi/

Monday, November 19, 2007

More Fifties classics from Marvel


The ever-reliable and informative Marvel Masterworks Resource Page has recently announced that late February will see the publication of the second volume of an Atlas Era Heroes book. This 240 page hardback will reprint the controversial Captain America "Commie Smasher" stories from the 1950s (which, in a bit of revisionist history in 1972, Marvel claimed featured a Captain America impostor). Other stories from the same period will include the Human Torch and Bill Everett Sub-Mariner strips.

Whilst Marvel's Sixties strips have been reprinted countless times, their 1950s material hasn't had nearly as much exposure. Recent years have rectified this oversight and Atlas Era Heroes Volume 2 will be the fifth book in a steadily growing line of Fifties collections.


Previous volumes in this series are Atlas Era Heroes Volume 1, Atlas Era Tales To Astonish, Atlas Era Tales of Suspense, and, most recently, Atlas Era Strange Tales which reprinted pre-code horror comics. (Although Marvel Comics of the Fifties have become known as Atlas Comics, "Atlas" was only the name of the distributor. The company was still Timely Comics back then.)


Although arguably not as mature in tone as the EC Comics of the 1950s, these comics are still worth a look as they contain artwork by some of the finest comic artists of the period. The aforementioned Bill Everett is there, as are Joe Maneely, and early John Romita amongst others. The stories themselves range from the mundane to the bizarre, but they all display a firm grasp of telling a short complete story clearly and tidily, with an emphasis on plot rather than soap-style relationships. A skill that seems forgotten in most US comics today.


Some of these strips were reprinted in Britain in the 1950s, in long-forgotten black and white L.Miller comics, but in these quality volumes the strips appear in their original context, in chronological order (not that it matters for these are complete stories) and in full colour. The books can be expensive, but with the current weak dollar against the pound, it's often worthwhile looking up comics dealers on eBay.com to buy them directly from the USA. Even with a charge of around $11 airmail postage it still often works out cheaper than buying them from UK outlets.


UPDATE: As can be seen from the samples below, the reprints seem to be very faithful to the originals. The Human Torch page on the left is from Young Men No.24, compared to the restored version on the right from Atlas Era Heroes Vol.1. - and in case you were wondering about the somewhat camp title of the comic, nothing could be further from the truth. Back then, comics with titles such as Young Men and, I kid you not, magazines called Man to Man and Man's Action were considered to be tough-sounding titles for "real men"!


And here, on the left, is the original cover of Strange Tales No.8 (taken from the excellent http://www.atlastales.com website, - a place all comic fans should visit) compared to the reprint version from Atlas Era Strange Tales on the right:


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Comic oddities: Tarkan


Unlike today, with comic racks in High Street shops dominated by pre-school magazines by the major publishers, the 1970s saw an assortment of comics come and go from a variety of publishers, large and small. One of the shortest lived oddities was Tarkan, launched in late February 1973 from Simavi Publishing Ltd.

Tarkan was a reprint of a popular Turkish comic written and drawn by Sezgin Burak. The title character was a warrior in Atilla the Hun's army, "the great hero of the Turks" who fought the Romans. The weekly British comic featured just 16 pages, half the length of a 32 page IPC comic, but all in full colour (albeit flat and slightly off-register colour). Most UK comics at that time would be mostly black and white, but Tarkan's flimsy format still made it look poor value in comparison.


The storytelling technique was unsophisticated but slightly more adult than the usual fare British readers would be used to. Tarkan beds a woman at the end of issue one, although the English translated caption states that "Gently Tarkan pushed her away, for he had come on a mission of hate, not love". Presumably it was a completely different scenario in the original Turkish text, as the couple are both (discreetly) naked in the next moment.

According to the late Denis Gifford's Complete Catalogue of British Comics the comic only ran for 34 issues in the UK. I must admit I gave up on it after issue one, although that was more to do with the style being unfamiliar than the quality of the comic. At 13 one is less willing to give unusual comics a chance unfortunately, and given Tarkan's short run, I'm guessing most kids of my generation felt the same.


However, in its native Turkey Tarkan is apparently hugely popular. From briefly researching the character I found that the series began there in 1967 and featured in 21 magazines with a total of 15 adventures. (The one that ran in the UK weekly, the undramatic sounding Mario's Pigeons being the fifth adventure it seems.)


From 1969 the character was also adapted into a series of films with scripts written by Burak. YouTube currently has the 1971 film Tarkan, Viking Kani (Viking Blood). "Cheap and cheerful" would be one description. Here's a clip (best viewed with Firefox or Safari browsers):



Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Dan Dare returns? He's been back for five years!

The imminent arrival of Virgin Comics' new Dan Dare monthly continues to excite journalists in the national press, as this recent article in The Independent shows. All good publicity for the new comic, but I'm yet to see a national newspaper or tv feature mention the fact that Dan Dare has been around in brand new adventures for the past five years!

Proof of this is the latest issue of Spaceship Away which thudded through my letterbox this morning. Produced under official license from the Dan Dare Corporation it contains new Dan Dare stories produced by several artists, one of which being Don Harley, one of the original illustrators on the strip when it was in Eagle back in the 1950s. If that isn't a respectable pedigree to classify the Spaceship Away strips as "proper" Dan Dare then I don't know what is. (Admittedly the current issue only features one page drawn by Don, as he had other commitments, but he has produced several pages for previous issues. Besides, the replacement artist, Tim Booth, does a meticulous job of getting it right. This is indeed classic Dan Dare.)


Spaceship Away doesn't have the mega-bucks of Richard Branson's Virgin empire behind it. The thrice-yearly comic magazine is published by lifelong Dan Dare fan Rod Barzilay and after shelling out a license fee to the Dan Dare Corporation and a print bill for the luxurious glossy printing (plus other costs) I doubt it breaks even. Under the circumstances you'd think the Dan Dare Corporation might give Spaceship Away a plug when they're interviewed for the national media, (after all, this is a mag that has kept their property alive for several years) but if they do give it a mention it doesn't seem to make it into print.

Therefore expect to see more media gushing over the "return" of Dan Dare throughout this month, with journalists not bothering to shatter the myth by mentioning Spaceship Away. Most media articles on the Virgin comic so far haven't even mentioned that Dan Dare will only be available in the UK in comic shops or subscription.... just the same availability as Spaceship Away in other words.

Speaking of which, subscriptions to Spaceship Away are available from their official website:
http://spaceshipaway.org.uk/

Ignored by the national press and unfortunately not likely to excite superhero fanboys, Spaceship Away needs all the support it can get. It definitely deserves it. With 44 full colour pages every issue and professional quality artwork, the comic magazine should be essential reading for anyone who claims to miss the heyday of the traditional UK adventure comic.

My blog regarding the previous issue, which came out in July, can be read here.



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